ILX Drive: Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson

Odometer (Legend):  527,023


Odometer (ILX):  54,672


Trip Distance:  257 Miles


Time to ditch the roadways and head for the skies!  This past weekend, some friends and I set out for the Pima Air & Space Museum near Tucson, Arizona.

Pima Air & Space Museum, where history takes flight, is one of the largest air and space museums in the world, and the largest non-government funded aviation museum. You’ll see more than 300 aircraft and spacecraft including many of the most historically significant and technically advanced craft ever produced, both from the United States and throughout the world.

We left a few vehicles parked at my house for the day:  Paul’s TL, Jake’s Wrangler, Matt’s 370Z (not pictured), and Ian’s Lancer (not pictured).  Instead, we took the ILX, an RS5, and an IS300.


It was a parking lot in my driveway as we were preparing for departure.


“RS Robigus” (Brad’s RS5) led the way to Starbucks so we could get some breakfast before heading out of town.  At 450 horsepower, I’m lucky the RS5 didn’t leave me in its dust.


From there, we made our way to the south end of Phoenix where Interstate 10 would take us the 110 miles or so to Tucson.


Our only pit stop along the way was for a bathroom break at Picacho Peak.


The RS5 looked menacing in my rearview mirror with its LED daytime running lights.


Approaching the PASM entrance on Valencia Road just south of Tucson, we could already see the tails of some of the aircraft on display.  The museum covers 127 acres.   It started out as a storage location for about 30 aircraft and has continued to grow ever since.  It first opened up in 1976 with 48 aircraft on display.


I’d passed by here a few times in the past, but never taken the time to check it out.


When we arrived, we were greeted by 3 other friends who were local to the Tucson area:  Nick, Kurt, and Mike had driven over to meet us.


Kurt recently picked up this gorgeous 1993 Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo convertible.  The Nissan “Z32” bodystyle ran from 1990 through 1996 and I feel still looks great today.


We gathered around to check it out.  This car is rare in its configuration as a convertible, but even more rare when you consider the odometer:  there were only 50,257 miles on it!  That’s just 2,500 miles per year.


My ILX is 20 model years newer, yet already has 4,000 more miles on it than Kurt’s car.


The later model Nissan wheels will soon be traded out for some aftermarket wheels that Kurt has already picked out.


The leather interior looks amazing for its age.  It’s easy to tell that this Z has been garage-kept.


Meanwhile, Nick’s heavily modified 300ZX (GODZIRRA!) joined the party as well.  Nick’s car was featured on Drive to Five back in March.


First stop in the museum was a gift shop where we paid our admission fees.  The rate was $15.   From there, we were on our own to explore the 4 hangars and many acres of grounds outsides.  I’ll highlight a few of the exhibits that caught my eye during our self-guided walking tour.


This silver & red North American F-107A first flew in September 1956.  It’s capable of a top speed of 1,295 miles per hour and has a “service ceiling” of 53,200 feet.  Notice the overhead jet air intake, making this a unique design.


Undersea aircraft wreckage has always fascinated me, and the museum had a display featuring remains of a “Martin PBM Mariner” It sank in Lake Washington near Seattle on May 6, 1949.  It wasn’t brought up from the bottom of the lake until 1996, and by then it was so weakened that when they went to grab it by the tail section, the aircraft ripped apart!  There are still pieces of this plane sitting at the bottom of Lake Washington.


Here I’m standing in front of a Fairchild A-10A Thunderbolt II.  This one was referred to as the “Warthog” by its pilots and crew.  It was used in the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War and is basically a flying tank.  It has a rotary cannon capable of firing up to 4200 rounds per minute!  Don’t get in its way.


Many of the aircraft were “manned” with mannequins to show how occupants would have been seated inside them.


There were plenty of attractions at PASM besides planes.


My favorite plane on display was this McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II.  This has an internally mounted gun for air-to-air combat and it was in service from 1967 to 1992.  It’s capable of 1,485 miles per hour!



This little Beechcraft Model S18D had capacity for 8 people and was capable of being flown from skis or floats as well as conventional landing gear.


Some interactive displays taught us some fundamentals about flying.


Next, we headed outside to where dozens of other aircraft awaited us.  For $6, we could have taken a tram tour but we opted to take advantage of the opportunity for some exercise instead.


Below is a B-52G Stratofortress from 1958.  This one weighs in at nearly half a million pounds.  Most of the planes outside were sitting on flat tires.  It made me wonder how long it’s been since they’ve been used.


Most of the aircraft being displayed were on loan from the US Air Force.


Jake’s favorite feature was this old army Jeep.  It was a 5-speed manual and had only a 4-digit odometer.  As I recall, it showed mileage in the 6,000’s.  It was actually manufactured by Ford.


This was my favorite exhibit overall:  The “Hoppi-Copter.”  It’s a one-man helicopter with a 20-horsepower motor that powers two counter-rotating sets of blades, strapped to the back of the pilot.


Can you imagine coming in for a hard landing with this thing?  Here’s a little more info from the display:

The greatest weakness of this design was its use of the pilot’s legs as landing gear.  If he stumbled during landing or take-off, the blades would quickly turn into thousands of potentially lethal splinters as they pounded themselves to bits into the ground.  The idea was quickly abandoned, but not before the Hoppicopter made about 20 flights.

Yikes.  I’ll pass on taking that one for a spin.  Don’t even try pronouncing this sign.  Fluegelschwenkbereich!


We had a great time at the museum, and we were ready for a break from all that walking.  No group drive would be complete without some delicious food to top it off, so for that we headed to Sushi Garden on Broadway Rd.


Parking in color sequence, because that’s just the way it worked out!


The $9 lunch buffet hit the spot!  Oddly, though, the buffet featured potato salad and Jell-O.  At a sushi restaurant?


Meanwhile, we picked up a straggler.  My friend Josh arrived in his silver 2008 BMW 328i 6-speed.  He’s been featured on the blog before with his turbo white Acura Integra.


We had one more stop to make before leaving town.  Our group headed up to one of Tucson’s well known landmarks, Sentinel Peak.  I had last visited this area in May.  Sentinel Peak is home to a giant painted “A” on the side of a hill in reference to the University of Arizona which is located in Tucson.


Toward the top of the peak, the road becomes a twisty one-laner with no guardrail.


The view was great from up top!  Our vehicles ranged in model year from 1990 through 2013.


The ILX is still performing well!  It accommodated me and two passengers for each leg of the trip.  Ian (former Civic Si 6-speed owner) noted that the ILX was quite a bit quieter than his Civic had been.  We enjoyed the 7-speaker sound system and XM radio.  Now, if only we could get the 90’s on 9 station to stop repeating the song “Waterfalls” by TLC so frequently.



Kurt showed us a few landmarks from around the Tucson valley.  Somebody remarked, “Tucson looks a lot nicer from up here than it does at ground level.”


Paul was contemplating something very deeply here.





We took a group shot before a fuel stop and heading home our respective directions.  Left to right:  Ian, Jack, Tyson, Nick, Kurt, Paul, Brad, Jake, Matt, and Josh.  Not pictured:  Mike, who was off hiking up a nearby hill.


Thanks to those who joined in for the fun!

The Legend got work commute duty today and I rolled 527,000 miles on the way home.


6 Responses to “ILX Drive: Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson”

  1. It was a fun day, Tyson. Thanks for all the great pics!

  2. You definitely get around to all the sights and attractions around Arizona and beyond! Amazing how many neat places there are to explore out there

    • Marc, yeah it’s true! There is so much to see & do out here. My trip calendar is already starting to push into 2014 with all the destinations I have planned out. We’re finally getting into windows-down weather out here, which is a huge relief too. Thanks for reading.

  3. Come see the Seattle Flight Museum when you get a chance, its pretty spiffy in of itself!

    I’d love to check out those planes in the SW desert to see how the paint is holding up.

    • Dave, I’d love to check out the SFM the next time I’m up that way. I’m actually surprised at how well the paints & finishes have held up on a lot of the aircraft parked outside. I noticed that in most cases, they’ve removed the glass windows and replaced them with non-transparent covers. It would have been interesting to actually get up inside some of the planes.

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